Character development writing exercise, by P.C.A.W. (from Grit Uplifted group @ Central Library–Week 4: Characters)

A big thank you to our special guest instructor Nadia for the following writing exercise on building characters, and to Grit Uplifted participant P.C.A.W. for sharing the character sketch that she created using a picture of a soldier.

Writing Exercise 
Participants choose an image of a person from the selection of random magazine photos provided and take 5-10 minutes to sketch the character according to the following headings:

Background and Family

  • Describe your character’s roots/ ancestry or cultural background/ Is the character at odds with family or cultural traditions?
  • Name?

Motivations and Goals

  • What drives/ motivates your character? Money? Love? Truth? Power? Justice?
  • What does your character want more than anything else? Is he or she searching for something?
  • What obstacles are preventing your character from achieving these goals?

Flaws and Fears

  • What is your character’s greatest fear? How did your character acquire his or her fears?
  • What are your character’s flaws and weaknesses?
  • How do the character’s fears and flaws interfere with attaining their goals?


  • What does your character look like? Make a list to include hair, eyes, height, weight, and also smell, and other traits like voice
  • Now choose one aspect of the character’s appearance, a detail (a scar, tattoo) and elaborate on it.


  • Internal landscape. How does your character feel on the inside?
  • Does this match up to how others perceive them? Or is there a disconnect?

P.C.A.W.’s Character Sketch

BACKGROUND & FAMILY – My great-grandmother was a Native Indian so I’ve been told since I was old enough to ask about my ancestors. My great-grandfather was a white man.  When they married, my great-grandmother “lost her Indian status” under the white man’s rules. That really sucks because as a ‘non-status Indian’, I have to pay taxes while some of my other relatives don’t.
MOTIVATION, GOALS & DESIRES – I’m here in Afghanistan on what is termed a ‘peace-keeping mission’, but I have been shot at and can’t shoot back. Every time I go out on patrol, I fear a not-so-peaceful incident will occur. I pray I get to go home alive. I haven’t seen my family in over nine months. It sure would be nice to hold my baby daughter who has not really seen me, except in pictures. A cup of Timmy’s would taste really delicious at this moment.
FLAWS & FEARS – Anyone over here or somewhere else in a similar situation that claims not to be afraid is an outright LIAR. I am truly afraid that I will be going home in a pine box. This entire environment makes it difficult to stay positive.
APPEARANCE & 5 SENSES – I live in this hot, green khaki outfit, carrying a fifty-pound pack on my back. The only time I am not wearing this pack is when I am trying to sleep, and then it becomes my pillow. The air reeks of smoke from all the burnt and burning buildings and vehicles. You can hear the screams and cries of injured civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.
PERSONALITY – I am Canadian! I stand on guard for you.

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